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GBR Team Parents Call For CEO's Head

Nov 24, 2012  - Craig Lord

British Swimming tonight accepted performance director Michael Scott's resignation as parents of British swimmers took to Twitter to call for the head of chief executive of British Swimming, David Sparkes. 

Scott, an Australian, said that he could not accept a condition of residing permanently in Britain as a condition of his employment. That condition is one of the recommendations of the review panel that looked into why Britain underperformed in the pool at a home Olympic Games in London this year. 

British Swimming entered a contract with Scott that allowed him to spend the equivalent of 2 weeks in Britain, 2 Down Under and cover much of the expense that entailed. Who will now take responsibility for that kind of arrangement and cost? Scott signed his new contract for four years just before London 2012.

Sparkes, CEO of British Swimming for the past 20 years, is another boss who spends some of his time out of the country. His family lives in Germany. He came away from London 2012 with just four medals from five Olympic sports and a threat of funding cuts hovering over his head. Not a great recommendation for hanging on to the well-paid top job.

One Britain team parent tweeted: "Sack David Sparkes. That's the only thing that could improve British Swimming". Others offered support for that view and called Scott a "good man" who was not the reason why things went badly for Britain. His departure - particularly on such an issue as residence and time spent in the country - would not resolve Britain's ills, several tweets suggested. 

There was no sign that Sparkes intended to go tonight. In a federation statement, he said: "We are sorry to be losing Michael at this time and wish to pay a tribute to all of the hard work he has put into the programme since joining British Swimming in 2007. Michael’s leadership has delivered some of the best results we have seen in recent years at Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth level. He leaves Britain with our sincere thanks and we wish him well for the future.

"The hunt will now begin to find a new Performance Director to initiate the recommendations within the Olympic Review and to make the next big step change towards Rio in 2016.” Just as the hunt was on for the past four big appointments made by Sparkes - all of them ending in disappointment one was or another.

Scott will leave his post six days from now on November 30, while the report he leaves behind will be considered by the board of British Swimming in the first week in December. 

One of the other conditions that Scott would have resigned over had he got that far was the issue of trials: he and the other panel members believe Britain should move from traditional spring trials for major events to holding them a month or so out from the international championship of the summer season. The USA has operated that system very successfully for many a long year.

It is believed that some on the board will resist that move because it may not suit costs. The cost of not doing the right thing, however, may persuade them

Scott said tonight: "I respect this conclusion from the performance review I initiated following our results in London. I wanted to make sure we left no stone unturned in understanding why we didn’t achieve our goals. One of the key findings of the review requires a change to my current working practice by being based in Britain. However, for personal and family reasons, I’m unable to meet this recommendation and therefore offered my resignation."

The issue was raised by the British paper that was banned from British athletics events earlier this year over the nationalistic tone of coverage of British passport holders who had grown up overseas but were eligible to compete for Britain at London 2012. The Daily Mail dubbed them "plastic Brits", the ban imposed after a reporter asked a track athlete to sing the national anthem. The coverage that ensued was criticised as being nauseating and jingoistic, some accusing the paper of racism. 

News of Scott's resignation offer was leaked to the paper this week by a member of a close circle of federation board members - the only people to know about the imminent move. Reporter Des Kelly running with the story late last night. Kelly is the cousin of Stockport coach Sean Kelly, who stepped down from his work earlier this year and was absent from trials and the Olympic Games while being treated for stress. He has since recovered and is back at work. Many in the British swimming community are aware of the family tie but there is no suggestion that the information about Scott came from anyone in the coaching community in Britain. It came from the world of blazers.

Tonight, the Mail ran a story starting: "Michael Scott, the man responsible for British swimming's flop at the London Olympics, resigned on Saturday night".

The man responsible? If it only it were that easy. 

Scott leaves Britain saying that, in an ideal world, the nation's next leaders would be British. Leading US coaching sources back that view on the grounds that the country should take on the fight and the responsibility. At the same time, the lessons from overseas programmes, particularly the variety of programmes in the US, come highly recommended by those same sources. The lessons are out there - and most of them were brought to Britain by a man called Bill Sweetenham.